Dec 31, 2011

Breaking Down The Sideshow For A Bit


I started Sideshow 1.) to write about my family, because I was always with them, talking about them and working with them anyway, 2.) after over a decade being creative for my job I thought it'd be fun to do it for myself and 3.) my sister's blog is amazing and helped me see how it's truly just another way to bring storytelling to life – and I'm always up for a good story. Oh, plus 4.) our brother is a Sideshow dude. So, yeah, it kind of made sense.

Kathleen's blog. That fur hat's mine, but everything else she wears, eats, treks or wills into being... is distinctly Kathleen.

So I'm breaking down the tent for now. Taking this act on the road in a way. Because now I really do work with my sister everyday. That whole "being creative for myself" kind of stuck and we've struck out on a tightwire to start our own business together, Braid Creative. I'll be blogging over there about what it means to be a creative professional, branding and storytelling, and about our new adventures. In between Kathleen making me a snack and some tea of course. By the way she has zero carbs in her house (yes, the famous house of Jeremy & Kathleen is where we office) so I'm going to have to bring my own bag of pretzels or something!


What's next for Donny Vomit? After a beer label, touring the world, and creating new dangerous stunts? Hmm. To be continued...

As for Donny, we still get to see him a few times a year. You'd think we'd all go out and paint the town during these reunions, but typically we play board games or do puzzles for days on end. Mom baking, dad popping in to grumble a bit, the kids running in circles around us, but we are in our own world.

Donny and I are talking a lot lately about his new show that he wants to produce, with a throwback Coney Island romanticized theme. I think we may write it together. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Kathleen and I talk to him a lot about his personal brand, what the next step is for him. We feel so strongly he is just a second away from the big lights – from greatness.

Sometimes we don't talk at all. We just are.

So if you've just stumbled on this Sideshow, feel free to read through. It's a bit like a memoir that's only been half lived through yet. Acquaint yourself with the characters, Tara, Donny, Kathleen. Three siblings from the suburbs who became creative forces (and freaks) of nature. At least, that's what the headline says. I sometimes think it feels like a book, or on a really aspirational day maybe like a scene from Tenenbaums.

The stories of our own personal sideshow will keep. Maybe a year. Maybe a few more. But you can bet I'll have some amazing stories to tell, when the tent is resurrected.

Don't worry, we're still playing the game around the table – just a second away from something we don't quite know yet. Maybe greatness, yes. But it doesn't matter, because being at the table together is great enough.

Nov 22, 2011

Taking Stock Of Our Locks


It's a bit funny that our mom is in curlers in this photo. She has always had very naturally curly hair. But for most of her teens she sported sixties-type bobs that I supposed required this sort of silly but now almost iconic beauty prep.


And it's probably why she rebelled in her twenties and wore her hair all Yoko style. Long and psuedo-straightened, like a frizzy blanket. But don't let her fool you like she did us when we were little kids, asking ourselves "why can't we have long straight hair like Mom?"

Me with my awkward mop of strangely layered bangs (thanks Mom for the home cuts too) and curls that I would brush out with a plastic bristly brush that was guaranteed to turn any curl into static poof. Kathleen with practically no hair until she was three, just cotton candy puffs of blonde, who would drape our mom's long dark tresses over her own head, and pretend it was hers. If Mom's hair wasn't handy she'd also be known to rubberband pieces of fabric like a headdress on her head to feel like she had long straight hair. Um, strangely fooling no one.


But as we got older, we realized that our Mom's hair was very curly. Especially once she put down the hair dryer in about her mid-thirties and never picked it up again til this day. And guess what? Our hair was curly, too. Especially once we moved out of the house and all stopped using that same bristly plastic brush.


Of course, even though Mom pretty much settled on her curly style and stuck with it, Kathleen and have gone through all sorts of hair evolutions, many disguising the curls. Like Kathleen's "bear buns" phase. Cute little pigtail-style buns on either side of her head that she wore in her late teens. I picked up the style in my twenties for a while, a messier-bun version with bangs. Very art director.

And even though I always influenced Kathleen's hair when she was a kid (sessions in the bathroom with a curling iron, a can of hairspray and a scrunchy and Kathleen comes out looking just like a sister on Full House) we've begun to reverse rolls. Kathleen picks up a style and I can't help but start to adapt it to my own hair.

I honestly think it's because I look at her all the time. But I always go for a less high-maintenance version (granted with less stunning results) but also more getting-kids-ready-in-the-morning friendly. Plus, I think I got some of my Mom's "eh" attitude about just not spending too much energy on it.

Mom always thinks Kathleen looks like Julia Roberts in this picture, by the way. Fitting, since she's a famous "curly-girl" herself who has also gone through phases of curl acceptance and curl denial.


Then we both went darker and more retro. Short bobs and flips. Not a curl in sight.


But over the past few years we've both just decided to go with it.

I actually read a book once called Curly Girl. It was written by a hairdresser who was sort of bucking the system and the snobbery in her industry about curly hair. So even thoug it was a little bit about cultivating your curls and how to cut and style them, etc... what always stuck with me was these little stories and testimonials from other curly girls, and the point the book makes about how society makes us feel about curly hair, and how we make ourselves feel about it. Basically, curly hair equals emotional, messy or out of control. Straight hair equals put together and sharp.

One of my favorite stories was from a straight-haired mom with a curly headed little girl. This mom was so stressed about this mess of hair she was responsible for, and just didn't know what to do, and once she figured it out thanks to Curly Girl (i.e. stop brushing her hair) it was this huge relief.
I don't think our mom ever really stressed about our hair, because she's a beauty is skin deep kind of a person, and a just "go with what you've got" kind of person on top of that. I think Kathleen and I are figuring that out, too. Of course Kathleen is always going to take it to the next level, whether posting an anatomy of an outfit on her blog, or posing as a hopelessly hip designer-turned-model for one day.

Sometimes I pose with her. Not in a model way, like in a personal branding sort of way. You know, now that we're respectable business-types (and yes, curly hair can be professional too.) As you can see the blonde made it's way over to older sister here, as well. What can I say? Kathleen's personal brand is catching.

So in the spirit of thankfulness, thanks for keeping me current, Kathleen. It's maybe not your typical "what-I'm-thankful-for" Thanksgiving dinnertable sentiment. But I think I owe thanks to someone else even more (since I gave her a hard time about the bangs and the brush). Even though it took us a while to figure out what to do with them, curls and frizz and out-of-control and all...

thanks for the locks, Mom.

Now, Donny's hair is a whole other story in itself. From long hair to no hair to the most memorable handlebar (talk about personal branding) mustache. You can read about it here.

Nov 17, 2011

Family Fridge




My family fridge is a constantly evolving documentation of our days. The summertime achievements have been taken down for the fall. But not everything changes. I mean the Bob's Appliance Repair calling card will probably stay up there at least another year at least after repairing our stove (we do live in a house from the 1930's and it's not like my husband or I are especially house-fixin' handy.)

So like good ol' Bob's card, there's the reminders and necessities like:
- cub scout calendars
- takeout phone numbers (Pizza House should be memorized, really, though)
- a free ticket to the movies I haven't redeemed

Typical stuff. But I try not to let it get to cluttered. Ha! What I mean is, I try not to let the functional overpower the, well... the cultural. The things on our fridge that capture our family's personality.

Like the art from the boys which I usually change out every week or so. Gallery-style. It's mostly daycare glue-and-fingerpaint projects from Sam, often involving a body part like a thumb or a foot (see butterfly above) or Charlie's drawings.

Charlie's drawings typically depict:
- what shows he's watching (Adventure Time With Jake & Finn above)
- what games he's playing (Castle Crashers below that)
- sometimes comic-book style stuff like a megalodon shark with a flamethrower

Sometimes he tries to visualize what he wants to happen in real life through art. For example, when his classmates were all asked to draw fall leaves, he drew a complex bridge-and-ladder, two tier treehouse scene, complete with Daddy, Charlie, Sam, Mommy, a fire pit, (oh, the actual pile of fall leaves) and even a root system underground where a little worm is checking out the action above. This is because he wants a treehouse. Hey, there's a strategy. But drawing it so complex is probably not winning the arguement with Chris, who would have to build it. Did I mention not exactly handy?

Then there's the actual magnets. Ones that look like:
- cartoon red u-shaped old-school magnets
- legos (my favorites)
- old milk top lids
- vintage typewriter keys
- and even ones that look like iPhone app icons

Sam loves to rearrange the app magnets, because he's iPhone/iPad obsessed. In fact it's becoming a problem. Not the app, game and online video obsession, really... just the fact that the megalodon flamethrower drawing keeps drooping down off the fridge where Sam has removed the You Tube icon magnet.

I don't have a lot of photos. But the ones I do, are tiny little gems.
- a photo booth strip of Kathleen and I from when she was just a teen
- a boat tour of Manhattan tourist pic with me, Dad and Donny (below)
- (it was freezing but also one of my favorite New York memories)
- and these hilarious fake-photos made by my husband, Chris

Chris actually made these for a big annual work event, where all the employees get a "character" card to match the theme of the event, and Chris photoshops together these clever, charming, silly vignettes for everyone. The Toy Story dinosaur one really makes Sam pause and look twice. The shark is a little disturbing. But did I say my husband wasn't fixin' things handy? I misspoke.



I love my fridge. And my family.

Nov 11, 2011

The Muppets On Being Misunderstood


So the new muppet movie is coming out. I have mixed emotions about it. It's not like I think The Muppet Movie (you know the old one) is the best movie in the world or anything, but it's still a lot to live up to when you love Jim Henson so hard. I'm actually guest blogging here about that "crazy one" today on the Jennifer James blog devoted to Generation X. Because Henson, like Steve Jobs – he did change us.

I know saying you love Jim Henson is like saying you love Dr. Seuss or you love Shel Silverstein, I mean, duh. Who doesn't? (Though I do remember my best friend's mom not letting her read The Giving Tree because it had a misogynistic message or something like that.) But when it comes to The Muppet Movie of my youth, the message I always felt was that being something special... also meant being misunderstood.

Um, especially if no one can understand a word you are saying.

I actually feel like my compulsive need to be completely and thoroughly understood in my communication with other people comes from one very specific scene in The Muppet Movie that almost ruins the entire thing for me.

It's where Kermit and Fozzie pull up in that "movin'-right-along, bada-dum, bada-dum," old Studebaker to this used car lot where this mammoth sized brown shaggy monster with the huge orange nose (you know the one) is like the used car dealers slave, practically. And after he is done slaving away, like physically picking up cars and stuff like that, Kermit asked if he wants to go to Hollywood with them. And he gets even bigger-eyed (if that's possible for a muppet) and runs off. And Kermit and the bear are like, "oh well" guess he didn't want to come along. And they drive off.

Uh. Kermit. Dude! He was getting his suitcase! He ran off because he was so excited and speechless (plus he can't talk) that you were about to release him from a life of back-breaking servitude!

This monster then heartbreakingly follows the trail of the "starring" muppets through the rest of the movie, just barely missing every adventure. But it's supposed to be just this humorous sidenote. To six-year-old me, it nearly ruined the whole movie. Like it made me so upset I could barely take it. I wanted to scream at the screen "it was just a misunderstanding!"


But when it comes to being misunderstood for who you actually are... no one does it like Gonzo. Nobody knows what he is, and neither does he. And there is something so bittersweet and beautiful about his campfire song near the end of the movie after he's joined the gang of similar misfits. I mean, they're furry googley-eyed puppets for crying out loud!

And you guys know I am a crybaby. So of course Gonzo's raspy-crackly-voiced I'm Going To Go Back There Someday always gets me (I think I've caught my own crazy misfit brother sniffling at this one, too).

This looks familiar, vaguely familiar.
Almost unreal yet, it's too soon to feel yet.
I've never been there, but I know the way.
I'm going to go back there someday...

Part heaven, part space,
or have I found my place?
You can just visit, but I plan to stay.
I'm going to go back there someday.

Song (as most muppet ones are) by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams.

This song might be a little obscure for you, it is during kind of a slow part of the movie. But surely you remember the image of Gonzo floating away with that bunch of balloons? Classic.

So now there is all this renewed muppet hoopla. In fact, I just discovered there is a whole blog for "muppet fans who grew up" with a countdown clock for the new movie (granted I think it's been around for ten years... the blog... not the countdown clock). But I've sort of kept my blinders on. I don't want to be disappointed. I think those songs, from Rainbow Connection to It's Not Easy Being Green and those characters have just become so part of my own misunderstood (or at least misunderstanding-phobic) soul...

that I just don't know if I can go back there someday.

Oct 28, 2011

Haunted Portraits




Haunted paintings where the eyes follow you are pretty cool. So one Halloween about, oh, five or six years ago, I decided (with the help of my sister and our mom) to make a couple portraits as Halloween decorations – complete with moving eyes. We had some old frames in the garage that would be perfect, and this was back when we were really doing elaborate Halloweens at our parent's house.

I figured out how you do it, is just set the eyes back further within a cutout, and for some reason from whatever perspective you view the portrait from it seems like the eyes "follow" you. I actually painted the eyes on a clear piece of plastic (like from a bakery box lid or something handy) and backlit them with white battery-powered twinkly lights, so at night, the eyes also lit up.

The style of these were definitely inspired by my childhood Victorian phase. The three children are a nod to me and my brother and sister.

We actually did these in one day. Because we may decide to whip up a project on the fly every once in a blue moon (or full moon in this case), but we also like instant gratification, so it's not like these are meticulous by any means – just a whimsical way to spend an October day.

But I do love to stare at them every year. And I love how they always return the favor.

Oct 21, 2011

Made All The Children Scream That Day



"Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" by Alvin Schwartz. Creepy fantastic illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

Every Wednesday at 12:30 I read to Charlie's second grade class for thirty minutes. It's only half an hour, but I always leave story time feeling really happy. The kids just eat it up, and I like seeing all of them get so into it.

Whether it's barely whispering through a really dramatic story or doing a modern take on a classic tale (like adding "dude" to the end of every Frog & Toad dialogue) or letting the kids finish the sentence of the books they all have read at home a million times – from sad stories to funny, I really lay it on thick. When the time is up they always give me some sort of clever group cheer, and often times they intercept me with hugs as I make my way out the door, asking me if I'm coming back next week.

Except for this last Wednesday.

This last Wednesday the cheers and hugs were replaced by, well, a group – scream. This wasn't an ordinary scream, mind you. This was the sound of twenty-five or so seven-year-olds screeching in unison. A scream so earsplitting, so sustaining, so echoing, so just freaking long and loud that I walked out of Cleveland Elementary that day afraid that I was going to look back and see the principal chasing me down the sidewalk – that I would be the first story time parent to get kicked out and asked to never come back.

Let me back up just a moment to say, I love telling stories. I used to think that this was just a character flaw of being too talkative. But then I realized I usually only get really carried away in a conversation when I'm retelling a story. Even in "the real world" I started to figure out that when I'm presenting a concept or idea, no matter how corporate the setting, that everybody still loves a great tale. I can really tell when I'm in the zone when I give myself goosebumps or even feel a little tears just barely starting to accumulate in the back of my eyeballs.

Then when I had my kids, bedtime reading (which frankly, can become mundane really fast, especially when you have to read the same book over and over again) flew by when I really let myself get carried away in the nuances of the story. And of course, the best part of telling stories, from the bedroom to the boardroom, is when your audience is entranced, hanging on every word and transported into this other reality that you are creating.

Now, secretly, this kind of lavish gratitude fulfills I know the creative professional need in me for constant affirmation and love of my "work." Since I recently made the leap from the advertising world to my own business, the client conversations have been more of the one-on-one variety (at least in the short term) and the big board room unveils (think Mad Men) aren't a weekly thing. So I kind of think the seven-year-olds of Charlie's class are in some way serving as a stop-gap audience for me as of late – better yet, one that is guaranteed to be receptive and responsive. Only, their feedback isn't nods or claps but giggles and big-eyes and belly laughs.

You know, except for this last time.

So last Wednesday was the last storytime before an extended fall break, and Halloween, for the class. So of course I had to read them some scary stories! I'm always rushing around right before I have to leave for the school, tearing myself away from my laptop, gathering up the books for that day – but this time I was trying to hunt down Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, an all-time favorite since I was a kid.

But my three-year old has become obsessed with looking at all the creepy ink and watercolor drawings that made that book so enduringly popular. "Scary bat." "Scary house." "Scary arm." "Scary zombie." That's how he "reads" the book to himself. Honestly, if the illustrations of Stephen Gammell weren't black and white they would be downright gory.

So of course, I couldn't find the book. (We found it later crammed under the bed next to an old baggie of Honey Combs and the one missing can't-live-without-it dragon from his collection of like fifteen dragons.) But at the time I was running late, so I made due with a bunch of more "cutesy" Halloween books that I quickly stuffed in my book bag, you know with cheery orange and black age-appropriate illustrations of silly ghosts and sweet witches and little pumpkins who dream of being plucked from the pumpkin patch and transformed into smiling magical jack-o-lanterns. Sigh. They would just have to do in a pinch.

So fast forward to me sitting in the storytelling rocking chair with all the kids sitting crisscross applesauce (that's what they call it now) on the storytelling rug all around me. I've already gone through the silly ghost book, the sweet witch book and am wrapping up the book about the little longing-filled and last-to-be-picked pumpkin who finally gets her wish and is whisked away from the pumpkin patch (to get her face hacked up, but whatever, they don't spin it that way) and "ta da," happy endings for all.

But dang! It's Halloween time. Come on! That is not going to cut it. I could tell some of them were a little disappointed because I had hinted the week prior that I'd be bringing the infamous Scary Stories book. Plus, I still had ten minutes left on my time slot. I couldn't stand it.

I told them that I could maybe remember one of the Scary Stories by heart. It is a tale called The Big Toe. The room got all hushed in anticipation. Some of those kids were downright drooling. A few of them silently mouthed the title to themselves. "the. big. toe."

And to make a big toe story short, I take them through the tale of a boy on a hill with a hoe who finds a big toe, brings it home for dinner, and after going to bed that night is haunted by a visitor. A visitor unseen, but definitely heard, who gets increasingly insistent with a very simple but repetitive inquiry – from front porch to staircase to breathing right above the blanket covered head of the terrified boy – "wheeeeeere's my big toooooe?"

I do admit I embellished a little bit, from the boy's mom grating the yellowed toenail into the evening's stew as seasoning, to describing how when the boy hid under the blanket, his own breath all hot and stifling, makes the blanket billow outward – that is, until the breath of his hovering visitor makes the blanket start indenting inward instead. Oh yeah, you could see the psychology of that tidbit really sinking into their super-absorbent grey matter.

So then I get to the part at the end where you're supposed to wheeze one last "wherrrrre's myyyy biiiigggg toooooeeee?" Then you grab the foot or toe of a kid that's closest to you and shout "you have it!" I probably should have taken a cue from my audience, that the suspense building around the foot of my rocking chair in the middle of a sunny afternoon, though ominously silent, was literally about to drive these kids to madness. And the classic campfire startle-grab ending? Maybe not such a good idea.

Some indicators that my audience was about to come unhinged:
1. several of the girls were all trying to stretch a single cardigan to cover them all like a makeshift tent-slash-canopy, like a shield between my words and their vulnerable little heads

2. several of the boys had literally started creating a silent pyramid, one crawling over another like crabs on a beach trying to keep their pinchers out of the tide

3. a couple of the children had simply removed themselves from the storytime rug, retreating to the back corner of the room

In hindsight I should have just had a funny, anti-climatic ending. Like a cute joke. "Where's my big tooooooe? Oh wait. I have an extra one in my pocket, dude. No worries."

But nope, I grabbed the toe of the little girl closest to me, and trying not to be too disruptive or loud (I mean, sheesh, we are in the middle of a learning establishment in progress here) I sort of faux-shouted at a medium volume – "YOU HAVE IT!"

And then they all went batsh*t crazy.

I have to say, it was probably one of my best storytelling experiences of all time. For about two seconds I was grinning from ear-to-ear. I know I get this from our dad, who could send any sleepover or slumber party into screaming hilarious terrifying hysterics within two minutes of lights-out.

For that one moment it was awesome. Then came the part where the scream didn't stop. I think it had to be a good thirty seconds. The teacher literally had to peel the kids off the ceiling. I had to quickly find a way to console one of the boys who (yes, you can boo me, now) started crying a little. I got him to tell me about his Halloween costume and he quickly dried up and started smiling, okay?

Then I asked one of the other boys who had retreated to the corner (I thought out of fear) to tell me about his Halloween costume, too, and then he informed the entire class that his family doesn't celebrate Halloween. Ack! I high-fived him on the way out the door and said "here's to fall! like leaves and stuff!" Double ack! But surprisingly he also smiled. Dang. This was like total spin control here.

Then I just embarrassedly made my exit, promising the teacher that I'd go back to peaceful, slow, Frog & Toad next week – "dude. croak. yeah, dude." I stepped out into the hallway, my cheeks burning and closed the door on a still-buzzing class that was never in a million years going to be able to focus on the afternoon assignments. I mean I'm supposed to be a teacher's helper, right? Not a riot inciter!

Then I realized how incredibly quiet the hallway of this school was, and knew that every single class in that old-fashioned 1930's schoolhouse heard the infamous scream. I think the class across the hall was actually testing – you know, the one with the open door and all? Man, I hitched my book bag up on my shoulder, and freaking high-tailed it out of there.

I seriously couldn't concentrate the rest of the day. Public school is strict you guys! I actually thought I was going to get a phone call any minute from the principal or the teacher or both, like on speaker phone, disinviting me to ever step foot on campus again! I was so wigged out about it, I even tried to ply info out of Charlie that evening after school. He's the one that helpfully told me (with a cringe) that the fourth graders had been testing across the hall. "Thanks a lot, Charlie. I feel soooo much better."

So, I just ended up sending a note of apology to Charlie's teacher in his backpack the next day. She sent me a nice note back, saying all was good, the children loved the story and that the boy who had started to cry was just really sensitive – to loud noises.

Or at least that was her story. I'm going along with it just to get over it. But if the school institutes a screening process for parent volunteer readers from this day forth I won't be surprised. A smidge proud, though? Yeah, probably. I do hate getting in trouble. It's just a hold-over from my school days. But that scream? As a storyteller – I think it was worth it.

Oct 6, 2011

Our Brother's Hair. Like Samson's.

Photo by Sean Hopkins

From Coney Island, NY to here at home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma all the way to Port Macquarie, Australia, Donny Vomit is known for his handlebar mustache (and his ability to hammer a nail up his nose). It's his personal brand. And I've often called his mustache his "swagger."

It's not that he couldn't eat light bulbs or breath fire or stick his tongue in a rat trap for the pleasure of a swooning crowd without it, but he just wouldn't do it with the same style.

I think perhaps there has always been some magic in Donny's hair. It sounds weird and a bit awkward to write, there's no poetry really in that phrase, other than I chose to stick the word magic in there. And a bit ironic since he has not a single hair on top of his actual head. But when he was a boy it's what made him look so much like the eighties kids on the screen from Wonder Years' Kevin to E.T.'s Elliot (today you'd probably say Harry Potter, to boot). He was just so freaking cute.

But even Donny who can evade throwing-daggers from hitting is tender bits, who can manuever swallowing-swords as to not puncture his esophagus, and can gracefully juggle chainsaws without lopping off a limb – even he could not avoid the cringingly unavoidable strike of teenagerdom.


Basically when cute just becomes painfully not-cute.

So Donny's wardrobe turned monochromatic, a spectrum of greys and blacks (he didn't own a colored article of clothing until well into his twenties) and he grew his hair out very, very, very long. And to top it all off, he donned a signature vintage top hat from mid high all the way through high school. We'd had this hat in our family for years, a gift to my mom from one of her hippie friends, the story being it came all the way from Woodstock. Donny wore that hat every single day, no matter the season or occasion, until it literally fell apart.

But you know what? We didn't mind. It was cool. Sure, we'd get looks when we'd go to the mall together to go clothes shopping. They have grey and black clothes as JCPenney. My mom says that to this day whenever she sees steampunk kids walking by, she thinks "uh, Donny totally invented that look and you don't even know it." Actually, our mom is probably a second away from actually telling them that out loud at times. Now that would be an embarrassing mall moment.

Truly the only time it was ever a "deal" was the morning when Columbine went down. The phrase "trenchcoat mafia" was all over the morning talk shows and news tickers. I remember our dad calling the house to track down Kathleen and then me at my college apartment in the same town. He was like "somebody stop Donny from going to school today in his trenchcoat, because I'm sure he's completely unaware of what just happened." He was afraid someone would do something really awful to Donny.

Donny, the most nonconfrontational human being in the world.


Who still did jigsaw puzzles with his sisters every weekend.


Who went on family vacations with us, and went to plays and bought souvenirs. Because you can still be a tourist in a black top hat.


You can also still visit your grandma and sit on her flower-couch and smile sweetly if someone pointed a camera at you. Now, your older sister (that would be me) might just still have the pissiest face ever, but that would pass with time, too. Ooh, check out my Doc Martens knock-offs! I was always good at mainstreaming it, and then just mixing it up the tiniest bit. But not good at smiling for pictures.


And you could still be a perfect prom date. All of a sudden your long hair is dashing and handsome.


And then you're over it. And your sisters (both of them) take you to get it all cut off.

Now, if Donny is Samson in this story, I don't want you to think that his two sisters were some sort of harpie-like, pushing-our-hair-agenda, Delilah-type sisters. This was something he wanted to do. We just happened to be supporters. It was probably the year 2000 by this point, the nineties were over, let's just do it bro.

But we didn't chop his locks without some ceremony. The hairstylist actually braided his hair down his back first. Then she cut it off all at once. We put it in a shadowbox. Seriously. After that, you would have thought he was a toddler getting his first cut the way we were just making such a huge deal out of it. We photographed the whole thing as he sat in the hairdresser's chair (of course I couldn't find those photos).

Actually, I couldn't find very many photos at all of Donny in the period between losing his long hair... and growing his mustache. His magic.

Photos by Lisa DiNicola

And now when Donny comes home to visit and we still do jigsaw puzzles and go to the mall, forgoing Hot Topic with a wry isn't-that-nostalgic-smile and heading for the Gap because Donny now wears more colors than black and needs a sweater in a rusty orange or a nice olive green.

And he still gets looks from the little kids and the moms and even the steampunk kids walking by (but their looks are a bit awe inspired), and mom is less tempted to tell them "what's-what" and more likely to just pridefully whisper, "I think they know you're Donny Vomit." And of course we don't mind, either. It's cool.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade with "Legs Malone" aka Donny's nice girl Anna.

Oh, and he still makes a dashing prom date.

Sep 23, 2011

The Monkey Stays In The Picture. Pants Not So Much.


Ah, Facebook Timeline. If only the Thomas family could start their path this far back.

I pulled this fairly, oh... dull and brown and not-so-interesting group picture from my archive (I've decided to call it the archive now, because it sounds impressive). And at first I was like "ah, yes, just a typical picture of Kathleen as a tomboy tot with only half of an outfit on," next to some other kids hanging out with Donny that I don't even know.

Then I see there are so many levels going on here.

First, Donny and his toothy shark toy which has a better fake smile than his, standing awkwardly in the middle of this group of much more cavalier (and apparently sporty) random boys who were probably just one-week-only vacation bible school acquaintances (hence the t-shirts from the quaint and sweet small country church we went to as little kids).

Next, note Kathleen who decides she must also be in the picture... but wait! Not without her fur. Her monkey fur stole. Which looks almost exactly like the fur vest she wore for a coffee meet today. So the church ties might not have bound, but the how that monkey slung across her shoulders made her feel was a state of grace she never shrugged off.

Then I think about our mom taking this picture. And not really giving a second thought to Kathleen being in this picture like this. Which, justly so, she really shouldn't have. I mean, it wasn't like our mom was going to share the photo with two-hundred-plus of her closest friends and family on Facebook at the time, so really there was no reason to accessorize her little girl with a clever floppy hat and a giant sunflower, or a mini-pair of movie-star sunglasses, or stage it in a field in front of a bale of hay... or make her put on, say... pants. No one will see it but grandma, who she sent the 4 x 6 duplicate to.


Not until I post it two minutes after finishing this story, that is.

Happy weekend, this is my gift to you. And, seriously, didn't like at least half of you have this exact same monkey at some point in your lives? Or now? It's classic.

Sep 13, 2011

Meg, Jo, Beth or Amy? Oh "Little Women."


The March sisters do not quit their jobs and start branding businesses with each other. They sell their hair to pay for their mother's train ticket so she can go nurse their wounded Union soldier father. They get embarrassed for wearing rouge to the dance. They get scarlet fever from tending to poor babies in the woods somewhere. They fall through the ice when skating on frozen rivers and get rescued by dashing rich neighbor boys. They go to France to learn to draw and have good manners. They write novels and fall in love with much older men.

I could never figure out if I was polite and pretty (and kind of boring) older sister Meg, or exciting tomboy heroine (but a little bit obnoxious) and way braver than me, Jo. The younger two March sisters I had less in common with, but were my favorite characters. There was frail but sweet and talented Beth who was the most tragic character, and self-centered, blonde-ringletted, (but really cool) Amy. Hmm, I know which Thomas sister she was most like. I could just cry a bucket when Beth died. And I liked Amy more and more toward the end of the novel, because she could draw and ended up getting the rich neighbor boy, which I always thought was really neat twist at the end. Oh, sorry, Little Women spoiler alert, ha.

Amy's the one depicted on the cameo-style cover of my hunter green leather-bound Little Women book. It even has an attached green ribbon bookmark. It was given to me when I was eleven years old by one of my dad's best friends (who also gave me the nicest set of knives I've ever owned as a wedding gift, go figure).




I read this book about once a year between the ages of eleven and fourteen. It would sit on the shelf next to this doll I had that was given to me by my grandmother Verna. See her little braid (wink). This doll was really fragile, so I never played with it. But that doll was just another indicator that I had a serious Victorian era obsession, that's for sure.

Now, Kathleen (if you didn't guess from my hint above, she's the "Amy") if she even gets within one foot of a victorian-era-anything will fall asleep in about ten seconds flat. But Donny, he gets it. I mean, look at him. Plus I saw him sniffling during the intermission of Les Mis the first time we saw it on broadway.

I remember when the 90's movie version of Little Women came out. Now, I love me a Winona Ryder. She was the first goth girl I ever saw (thank you Beetlejuice). She was the blue-tights-clad Veronica with a smart mouth and poison pen (thank you Heathers). I even love her as bubble-gum popping child bride to Jerry Lee Lewis. "Don't thank Jesus, thank Jerry Lee" (thank you Dennis Quaid).

But Winona is no Jo March. No way. She's way too waifish, all dark eyes and tiny little elfish nose. Jo was tall and redhaired, boyish, blustering and brash. Now, Claire Danes cast as a weepy, frail Beth? Sure. That girl knows how to cry. And Kirsten Dunst as little blonde snooty Amy, who Kathleen gets mistaken for when she's in NYC's east village (Kirsten that is, not Amy) is perfect casting.

But Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is so part of the fabric of me, that the film version (as okay as it might be) is just one of those movies that won't erase the novel in my mind. Some films do, and I'm cool with that. And if we're talking Victorian era, I'd say for example (and don't hate me) but Pride and Predjudice as a story, is kind of a snooze for me, unless I'm watching the Emma Thompson or the Kiera Knightley versions.

Maybe it's just because I don't have the patience for the Victorian era anymore. Today my reading is more blood-lust, power-lust and just regular-lust. The lastest book in the Game Of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin is my current reading material. I alternate between Martin's violent epic and a really good small business help-book, Launch, by Michael Stelzner (this super-social-media-strategy-dude, sigh, aren't they all?)

So now my braided-head ball-gowned doll sits on a shelf in my home office. And I read my two books of the moment (one non-fiction, and one yes-fiction-please) on my Kindle. So I can easily toggle between how to focus my social media strategy and how to vanquish my enemies and put their heads on stakes (you're supposed to dip them in tar first).

No green satin bookmark attached with the Kindle, but at least it still has those really intricate pen-drawn illustrations that come on the screen when you power it off. So I can still lie there and stare at every inky detail before I finally turn off the bedside light, just like I used to do with that illustration of the little March women all sitting together under the tree... wondering which sister I would be.

Sep 1, 2011

Tara The Same. But Not The Same.


Things About Me That Are The Same As Always:

I drink a V8 from a can with a bendy straw every morning.
I read storybooks out loud.
I get irritated easily.
I have a husband with impressive hobbies.
I have kids who inherited mad video game skills.
I clean house to Mary Poppins songs.
I like to build Lego towers.
I like epic novels and commercials that make me cry.
I like scary movies, and show tunes.
I always remember the words.
I hang out with my parents every weekend.
I like to realize the things that have shaped me.

Things That Are Different About Me:

I started drinking coffee (a lot).
I started running (sometimes).
I started eating an apple a day.
I think perhaps I'm less cynical (but no less irritable).
I left the dream job that I had for fourteen years.
I started my own business with my sister (today).
I realize that I have yet to be completely shaped.
I think it's all those apples.
I just bit into something.
And now I just know.
Like when Donny hammered the first nail in his nose.
If he can do that, then I can do this.
And that's how I'm different.
But the same.
And glad that I'm not doing it alone.
Because my sister eats lots of apples, too.


Shelf of me.


Looking out at the here-to-come.


That's my Braid Creative & Consulting business card. (See the business card in stripedy pottery?) Kathleen talks more about our new adventure here. We're having an exciting day to say the least.

Aug 25, 2011

Summer Achievements. Snow Cones. And Zombies.



Even though the heat lingers on (at 100° plus in these parts), the kids are back at school and summer is officially over. That means taking the "Summer Achievements" down off the refrigerator.

This achievement system was masterminded by Charlie, who was inspired by the extra achievements you can earn on our favorite household iPhone game, Plants vs. Zombies (sorry Angry Birds, you've been replaced). So basically if you've already won the entire game, oh, say two or three times (like Charlie and I have together) you can still get your fix by running over a certain number of zombies on your front yard with the lawn mower, for example, thus earning yourself these bonus merit-like badges.

Charlie came up with the idea to use the merit badge system to track some of his big summer to-do's, like learning how to tie his shoes with the "Knot Up" achievement. Completed and paid! Uh, yeah, there was a monetary reward included for a little extra oomph. But let's just say Charlie and I both earned that five bucks ten times over after all the drama and tears that went into mastering a shoelace tying technique that would last more than five minutes out the front door.

But other achievements like Nappy Happy (trying to get a seven-year old to still take naps on Sunday afternoons so mom can crash, too)... not as successful.



Other summer projects were just to beat the boredom, like a summer camp diorama kit I got at a hobby store. Charlie and I put it together one Sunday afternoon when it was too hot to go outside and he wouldn't take even the shortest mid-day snooze (which pretty much described every Sunday this summer).

Now, technically, the zombies did not come with the kit. I don't think this particular hobby store (let's just say they close on Sundays for other reasons) would really carry that kind of family fun. So we kinda added that part ourselves. But, hey, we've always defined our own brand of wholesome entertainment around here.




I mean, like how much more Leave It To Beaver can you get than catching the ice cream truck on a summer evening? Of course, that ice cream truck would be like zombie bait in any true neighborhood infestation. That music alone would draw them for miles.


Which is why Sam is on high alert. He's always spotting zombies. "Zshombeees" in Sam-speak.


Oh yeah, they are totally coming down the street. Charlie, make sure your shoes are knotted tight. And someone start the lawn mower.